"One crack, Morgy," Argos was saying as they stepped off the Bullhead's ramp. "Hell, you so much as scuff those cuffs and Will cuts your throat open." Morgan eyed him, looking far too amused for his liking.
"Would you really do that to an old friend, Argos? I don't know if you have it in you." Her blue eyes were full of hurt innocence as she looked down at him. That didn't require too much effort on her part, given her six and a half foot frame had a good eight inches on him.
"There's a real easy way to find out." Normally Argos wouldn't mind having a good back and forth with Morgan, but after she nearly killed him twice that evening, he wasn't in the mood. He kept his spear at his side, ready to snap it up at a moment's notice. On Morgan's other side, Will had his daggers drawn and the look in his eyes said he wouldn't hesitate to use them.
Morgan looked over at their companion. "You hear that, handsome? They're going to kill me if these things so much as get a little dirty." She held up the specialized handcuffs that completely encased her hands for emphasis. Theron raised an eyebrow at her. "Then I would endeavor to keep them clean." He returned his gaze to the prison entrance and the guards spilling from it. A surprising number of them were robots of some kind. Argos couldn't identify them but he was willing to bet Dom could have told him the make, model, and flaws of each one. Argos couldn't help but notice they were leveling their weapons at himself and Will in addition to Morgan. His grip on his spear tightened.
At a gesture from Theron, the guns lowered. One of the guards stepped forward. Since he was the only one not wearing a helmet, Argos assumed he was in charge. "Hand over the prisoner to us."
Will frowned and Argos agreed. "We'd rather escort her as far as possible."
"This is as far as you can go." Helmetless explained. "You are not authorized to enter the prison." The guard at his side shifted her grip on her gun's handle. Argos started assessing angles and firing lines. Great, can't even get through the door without a fight.
"Surely it cannot hurt to simply let them inside." Theron opined. "I'll take full responsibility if anything happens." The guard glanced at Helmetless, who pondered for a moment before nodding and turning to lead them inside.
Guess you don't become the strongest Huntsman in the continent without earning some respect. Argos' gaze flickered to Theron. 'Handsome' Morgan had called him, and Argos could see why. He was tall and with enough muscle to look strong without it being overbearing, with regal features. In fact, with his short black hair he looked a lot like Dom, only instead of deep, dark, gray his eyes were a bright silver. He felt Argos' eyes on him.
"Are you quite sure you don't want to leave to attend to that distress call your friend sent out?"
"Nah, San said he'd take care of it. And Dom's too stubborn to die anyways."
Theron looked surprisingly melancholy. "I wish I could have that kind of faith in my comrades." He looked off into the distance, seeing nothing. "People assume I work alone because I'm just that good, but in truth I was in a four man team same as everyone else. I'm just the only member left."
The smart and polite thing to do, Argos knew, would be to let the topic die. "How did they die?" He could feel Will's disapproving stare in his back.
"Here and there." Theron said with forced dismissiveness. "A Huntsman's life is not a safe one. My friends gave their lives freely, defending humanity with even their last breaths."
"At Umbra, we're taught that a Hunters job is to die, so other people don't have to." Argos said. "Not entirely sure if I agree with that, but I appreciate the sentiment."
"Hmph. True enough I suppose." By then they passed through the doors into the prison.
Helmetless turned back around to face them. "Alright, you're inside now. We'll be taking the prisoner from here on."
"Might I accompany you, captain?" Theron said before Argos could object again. "She is a rather dangerous individual, and it would let my companions rest easy knowing she is well guarded."
"Of course sir." Helmetless said. That's probably as good as we're gonna get. Argos stepped back and let a pair of guards wrap armored hands around Morgan's arms. "Her Semblance is creating shockwaves, so she can bust out of those cuffs in a few seconds." He explained as they led her away. "Be sure to keep weapons on her until you get her into Aura suppression."
"Understood." Theron left with Morgan. As they passed the threshold into the prison proper, she looked over a shoulder and winked back at Argos. Uncertainty crashed over him, the nagging suspicions he'd been feeling that night rising up in a swell. He turned to ask Will if he shared those thoughts, only to instead catch the eye of one of the guards who had stayed behind to watch them. Right, because all Umbra Huntsmen are vicious killers, so they don't trust us.
Suddenly weary, Argos sank onto one of the benches that lined the wall. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. He wasn't good at handling the non-combat parts of a Huntsman's job; he'd let San deal with it. Granted, San wasn't any better but since it actually was his job, Argos had no problem passing the buck.
Weiss awoke with her head absolutely throbbing. She raised a hand to her face to both massage her forehead and to block out the light coming from above her. Something felt wrong about the situation, but before she could figure out what it was, a red cloaked mass cannoned into her side.
"Ack! Ruby get off me." Weiss shoved at her partner, pausing when she saw the tears that she was holding back.
"Are you ok?" Ruby asked, an uncharacteristic quaver in her voice. "Do you hurt anywhere?"
"I feel fine." Weiss said, before her head throbbed again. The thing that had been bothering her finally clicked. She slept on the bottom bunk, how could light be shining down on her? A quick glance around their room confirmed they were not, in fact, in their room. In fact, the furnishings looked rather like a hospital room. And her sleepwear looked a lot like a hospital gown.
"Why am I in the hospital?"
"You don't remember?" Ruby asked.
"The doctor said short term memory loss was a possible side effect." Blake reminded their leader, setting down a magazine on the table next to her chair.
"A side effect of what?" Weiss asked, her eyes narrowing.
"You were drugged." Yang said simply, standing near the door. She shrugged as if to say 'these things happen'.
"I was WHAT!?" Weiss shouted. Ruby held up her hands in a placating manner. "It's not that bad, he just wanted to knock you out for a bit." She gave her sister a look that implored her not to speak anymore.
"Who wanted to knock me out!?" Weiss wasn't reassured in the slightest.
"Well we're not really sure." Ruby said, looking a bit panicked. "Dom said his name was Mordred, but beyond that he wouldn't tell us anything."
"Who's Mordred?" Weiss' voice sounded a bit tinny in her ears. With effort she managed to keep from screaming at them. "Would someone here please tell me what happened?"
Blake took pity on the increasingly flustered Ruby and concisely described the events of the previous night. Ruby's expression grew more and more concerned throughout the explanation, as if afraid Weiss was going to snap again. But now that her imagination wasn't providing horror stories, Weiss was actually rather relived.
"So someone drugged me into unconsciousness and tried to kidnap me, you stopped him and brought me to the hospital to make sure the drugs weren't anything serious." She recapped. "Alright then."
"What?" Now Ruby was the one who was flabbergasted. "What do you mean 'alright then'? Someone tried to kidnap you. Don't you care?"
"Ruby, I am a Schnee." She reminded her partner. "People have been trying to abduct me since I could walk."
"Yeah, but…" Ruby trailed off, her eyes downcast. Weiss couldn't have said why, but she reached out and covered the younger girl's hand with one of her own. "Really, Ruby, it's not that bad. You stopped him and it's fine now."
Weiss pretended not to notice Ruby's sniffling. "It wasn't just us. Dom helped out a lot."
"Dom?" Weiss repeated. Ruby nodded, trying to pretend the lapse in composure hadn't happened. "He came out of nowhere. He's the one who got you back, we just fought off Mordred."
"Dom's advice and assistance was invaluable." Blake's voice was low and her eyes narrowed. "But I wonder what his connection to your assailant is. They knew each other by name, and Dom had detailed knowledge of his abilities."
"Well why don't we ask him?" Yang said, jerking a thumb towards the hall. A few seconds later Argos poked his head in the door, with Dom following him. Argos waved at her, flopping into an empty chair while Dom hovered nearby.
"Hey Princess, good to see you're awake." Weiss flushed at the nickname. Before she could reply, Yang raised an eyebrow at Dom "Shouldn't you be in bed and all? There's no way your hand is healed yet."
Dom smiled, though it looked a bit weak. "Beds are for sleeping and dying in."
"Also, you can sit on them if you don't have any chairs." Argos added.
Dom ignored him and continued. "The sword didn't hit my tendons or anything, I'll be fine." He held up a bandaged hand and wriggled his fingers. "We wanted to make sure everything was okay around here. Mordred probably won't be back for a while, but it doesn't hurt to be careful."
Weiss' sense of shame deepened. He had been injured trying to protect her, by her according to Blake, and now he was ignoring his injuries to babysit her.
She cleared her throat to thank him for his help, but he spoke first. "I need to apologize for last night."
"Apologize?" Weiss asked. Dom nodded as Argos rolled his eyes. "I kinda hit Blake… with you."
"And," He continued, "I'm sorry that it even came to that. I should have caught Mordred long before he got to you. Or at least cut him down without needing San to come bail me out again."
"Eh, it's fine." Ruby shrugged. "We all chipped in."
Dom shook his head. "No. I was the most experienced Huntsman present. It was my fight to win or lose." Dark gray eyes drifted to the window. "And I lost." He said softly.
"Uhh, hey! Looks like a bunch of nurses are going around searching rooms." Yang said, changing the subject.
Dom looked up. "And that's my cue to exit." He walked over to the window and slid it open.
"What are you doing?" Ruby asked.
"Well, you weren't wrong about how I'm supposed to still be in bed." Dom swung his legs out the window and dropped down below. Seconds later, a pack of nurses burst through the door.
"He went out the window." Argos said, pointing. A mix of horrified and outraged cries lingered as the nurses raced off. Yang smirked.
"You sold your friend out in a heartbeat. That's cold."
Argos shrugged. "If he's slow enough to get caught by some nurses, he really is too weak to be up and about."
"So what was all that back there?" Ruby's brow furrowed in confusion and annoyance. "It was his fight to lose? What are we, chopped liver?"
"Ignore that." Argos waved a hand dismissively. "The short version is that Dom's parents were these big shot Hunters, so he's got this whole inferiority complex about not living up to their standard. In his mind, anything he accomplishes is because of his heritage, not his actual skill. Anything he fails at is because he's not working hard enough, since he 'should' be at a certain level naturally."
"That's messed up." Yang said. Weiss didn't say anything, but privately she knew what it felt like to have to live up to incredible expectations, even if they were put there by yourself.
"Indeed." Argos agreed. He straightened up in his chair. "Now then, we need to talk."
Blake looked up sharply. "About what?"
"We talked it over with San, and he's agreed you guys can be let in the loop."
"I take it this has to do with last night?" Blake folded her arms.
"Yep. The guy you fought is named Mordred. He's a member of the rogue Phantom squad, and it's our, Shadow squad's, job to hunt him and his squad mates down and take 'em out."
"Who's Phantom squad?" Yang asked.
"And why do you want them dead?" Blake asked in a tone that reminded Weiss of her earlier disapproval of Umbra's practices.
"Phantom was a squad at Umbra, one year above Shadow." Argos explained. "They graduated and were assigned a bunch of search and destroy missions out in the wilds. About three months ago, they disappeared, which isn't terribly uncommon. But when a search only turned up Arthur, we started to get suspicious."
"Arthur?" Ruby asked.
Argos' expression softened. "Phantom's captain. A good man." He looked down at his hands for a second. "Anyway, when the other three members turned up in Atlas, getting on a ship for Vale, Shadow drew the short straw."
"So they killed their captain and went awol, and you came to Vale to track them down." Ruby summarized. "But then why did you pretend to transfer here?"
Argos grunted. "Officially, operational security. His tone made it clear what he thought of that. "Unofficially, Headmistress Woden wanted to sweep this under the rug. Would kind of ruin the superiority kick she's been on if it got out."
"If there are three of them, where were the others last night?" Weiss asked.
"Fighting us." Argos replied. "In hindsight, it was an obvious distraction ploy, but we did manage to catch Morgan, so that worked out."
Who's Morgan? Weiss wanted to ask but Yang spoke first. "That's still only two." Yang had counted them off on her fingers. "You're one short."
"Lance. He was there too, but he got away." Something about what he said seemed to confuse Argos. He looked off into the distance, absently playing with his hands before slightly shaking his head and returning to the matter at hand. "By now, he and Mordred have probably linked back up and are plotting their next move."
"Which would be another kidnapping attempt?" Weiss hazarded. Her hand clenched into a fist under the covers. This time, she wouldn't be a helpless damsel in distress.
"Possibly. Currently, we don't know what Phantom is after." He didn't quite meet her eyes when he said that. Seems they weren't entirely in the loop yet.
Argos stood all of a sudden. "Well, now you know. Not that I think it will matter. Shadow will be handling Lance and Mordred and with the guards Ozpin's got on you, you've got nothing to worry about."
"We're being guarded?" Ruby sounded surprised. What did she think was going to happen? It was standard procedure after a scare to increase security. Too late to be any help, Winter had said once, but it was still prudent.
"At least three, probably more." Argos nodded towards the window. Weiss followed his gaze. Outside was just an ordinary skyline. "There's no one out there."
"If you say so." Argos grinned. "Cya." He left waving over his shoulder.
The sound of a growling stomach filled the room in his absence. As if on cue, three heads turned to face Weiss. She flushed. "What? It's been quite a while since I last ate."
"You know, since we're already in the city, we could go to one of those fancy cafes you like so much." Ruby mused.
Part of Weiss rankled at the implication that they would go for her sake, as if she needed a treat after being kidnapped. Still, she was always eager for a chance to not have to eat dorm food. "Sounds good to me." She threw off her blankets and made to stand up, ignoring the sudden surge of pain in her head. Yang held up a hand. "Whoa there. Unless you wanna go on the run too, maybe you should wait until the doc checks you over first."
Weiss flopped back onto the bed. "Fine. Go get him then, and be quick about it!"
Yang saluted. "You got it, Princess." She left chuckling, with Weiss glaring daggers in her back.
The sword wove through the air, tracing a path slowly and methodically. His feet followed in a careful, intricate dance. Sanguin moved without conscious thought, the motions having been burned into his body by years of practice. Drying sweat covered his brow as he brought his breathing back under control. He had been practicing for hours now, and his body was reaching its limit. The perfect time to truly push yourself. He began to increase his speed again, taking care that his movements were still precise and unerring.
Each member of Shadow had their own way of unwinding after combat. Dom would look over his equipment, and anyone else's if he could get his hands on it, with a near religious reverence. He'd repair and tinker and replace any spent knives, menial and time consuming work he could get lost in. Will liked to listen to music. He had a surprising interest in Vacoan hip hop, which Sanguin had always thought didn't really fit his reserved character. Argos would take one of his many history books and read for hours, his eyes never leaving the page. If you asked any of the other three, they would say that Sanguin relaxed by training. That was not, strictly speaking, true. San often did engage in practice sessions following a mission, that much was true. However, relaxing was nowhere near his intent.
Sanguin had realized a long time ago that his interests were a bit different from most people's. Most people, hell, most Hunters, fought because they needed to. Because there was some great evil or threat to be eliminated. Some of them enjoyed it, some of them saw it as a task to be performed, but in the end it was all the same. The battle would end, and they would go on with their lives. For Sanguin, it was the exact opposite. Fighting was his life.
He couldn't find anything that made him feel half as alive as when he was in battle. When someone or something was trying to kill him and him them, his heart raced with excitement and his blood sang. He was faster, he was stronger, he thought quicker and his body seemed to just move without the need to think first. He trained himself incessantly after combat in an attempt to hold on to that feeling, pushing himself to his limits to emulate having to fight for his life again. Everything was so simple and straightforward in those moments. When it was kill-or-be-killed, everything else didn't matter. It didn't matter that he had orders he hated or who he was related to. All that mattered was the battle, was winning. It was so tempting to see the world like that, where anything in his way was an enemy that could be cut down.
His meeting with Ozpin and Goodwitch had gone about how he had expected. Badly. Between them tearing up most of Main Street with a battle and not even apprehending more than one of the enemy, there was a lot of the mission that had gone wrong. Ozpin and Goodwitch thought that the lion's share of the blame belonged to Shadow Squad. Which they made abundantly clear.
Goodwitch did most of the talking. Ozpin just sat behind his desk with his fingers steepled looking stern. Sanguin thought he had a good poker face but he had nothing on Beacon's Headmaster. Still, Woden liked to say Goodwitch never had a thought Ozpin didn't have first, so Sanguin took the silence for agreement. It was around the point when Goodwitch had started to imply he had deliberately let Lance and Mordred escape he lost his patience. Playing the "your students got in the way" card hadn't done him any favors, but by that point he was past caring. The only silver lining was that Ozpin still saw the sense in letting them interrogate Morgan.
His arm slowly dropped to his side. It wasn't working. Compared to the fury and thrill of true battle, a practice session was drab and dull. Once it would have been enough to banish the uneasiness, but the more he fought for real, the more he needed the real deal. He breathed out slowly, glancing around the practice court. He had chosen a secluded court, tucked away on the edge of Beacon's grounds. Seeing no one, he raised his sword with one hand. Slowly, he curled his fingers around the blade and squeezed.
Pain laced up his arm, the feeling dull and muted thanks to his Aura. He watched as light bloomed in his palm as his Aura tried to protect him. He helped it along by concentrating his Aura into his arm. The light from his hand flared but even as he watched it grew dimmer. It faded as the pain grew sharper and San released the blade just as it was about to fade completely.
Aura shielded and protected the body. Losing that shield made one jumpy, apprehensive. The body instinctively realized that it was in danger and reacted, making one skittish and easily spooked. Being able to keep your composure in that state was a valuable skill, especially in battle where the slightest misstep could be your death. Sanguin trained this way often; it took only a few moments for him to slow his heartbeat back to normal. He began to work through his set again before a voice intruded.
"Haven't you mastered that yet?" Will asked, his tone making it clear what he really meant. Sanguin was tempted to ignore him, but that always made Will tetchy.
"You can always improve." Sanguin said, pointedly ignoring the unsaid reproach. He returned to his practice, not caring if Will stayed or left. His squad mate had the decency to withdraw and leave him to it. Will took a perch atop the surrounding wall and watched Sanguin flow through the set.
Sanguin could feel the goosebumps on his arms and legs. Being Auraless felt like every nerve in your body was on fire. Once you worked past the fear that came with, it was almost as good as being in battle. Almost.
A small part of his mind worried the old concern like a bone. As the years passed, his appetite for combat only grew. Rather than becoming accustomed to the thrill of mortal combat as he had hoped, he hungered for it more and more. Will was not wrong; he had more or less mastered controlling himself when his Aura was depleted. But he kept training, if only for the sense of danger it evoked. And when this isn't enough either? A voice whispered. When you need something stronger to sate your appetite?
The battle last night had been everything he could ask for in a fight. Morgan's punches had nearly shattered his arms more than once. Lance's clones had been everywhere, attacking from all sides. Danger and death had been all around him, but it hadn't reached him. He had danced through it, cutting down a dozen clones without taking so much as a scratch before he reached Morgan.
Sanguin frowned at the memory. Had Theron not intervened, he would have killed Morgan. And not for the sake of the mission either. He would have killed her in cold blood for the hell of it, the rush it would have given him in the heat of battle.
What kind of Huntsman kills people out of sheer bloodlust?
An alert issued from his scroll. Sanguin read the message while Will hopped off the wall and joined him.
"Ozpin's pulled some strings at the prison and gotten us some time with Morgan." Sanguin answered the silent question. He kept reading. "But we'll have company." What's Ozpin playing at now?
"Well, that was a resounding failure." The silky smooth voice slithered through the air. Lance frowned, but said nothing. They had, after all, indeed failed to secure the Schnee girl, and all the Dust she would have brought them in ransom. Mordred however had some wounded pride he needed to assuage.
"I'm so terribly sorry we couldn't do your job." Sarcasm dripped from his words. "Acquiring the necessary Dust was your responsibility. Why are you even here if we're going to be taking care of everything?"
Ember smiled. Lance didn't trust that smile, or her at all for that matter. The sooner they were done with her, the better. "I told you exactly how to get more Dust than we could possibly ever need, did you want me to hold your hand the whole way through?"
"You think coming up with a plan that would take three minutes to dream up then expecting us to actually do it counts as getting us the Dust we need?"
"Enough." Lance was ill used to leading, but someone had to take charge. If only Arthur were here. He'd know what to do. "What's done is done. We need to plan for the future." He faced Mordred. "We have to prepare for the next step of the plan. We don't have much time to get ready." He turned to Ember. "You need to get us the Dust we need. Our deal was that we would let you use the procedure if you obtained the necessary supplies. If we have to do the hard work ourselves, why would we let you reap the benefits?"
Ember's smile was really unnerving him.